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Jon Atack: Why do Scientologists Find it So Difficult to Apologize?

karma2Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.

Jon, you said you wanted to talk about forgiveness in Scientology, which sounds like it could be a pretty volatile subject. Give us your best shot.

JON: I was on the Class II course when the bulletin Proclamation: Power to Forgive was handed down from on high. This was apt, as the Class II course deals with “confessionals,” and the Class II auditor is granted this right of forgiveness along with a pretty, gold-blocked certificate. So, I was one of the first to grant forgiveness to a fellow Scientologist.

I was already bemused that the procedure known by this time as “confessional auditing” or “integrity processing” had formerly been known as “security checking.” Listening to the Hubbard lectures and diligently assessing the course materials, it was strange to me that the very lists used as “security checks” when the procedure was introduced to rein in dissident South African Scientologists had simply been relabeled, without change to their content. In a later development, the confidentiality of such “integrity processing” was waived, and an auditor could simply declare “I’m not auditing you” and the confession could be written up for the ethics file, and distributed according to the needs of Scientology. This despicable variation on confidentiality was a persuasive factor in my decision to leave the organization, along with the reintroduction of “disconnection” and the raft of Suppressive Person declares, issued without trial.

I have watched the new round of defections with interest. Debbie Cook’s brave declaration and the departure of David Miscavige’s principal henchmen — Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun — have caused a seismic shift in the cult, which seems to be moving from conservation into decay, according to the cycle of action, which it teaches. I left because I felt that the true “technology” had been betrayed by the new management. This also motivates current defectors, as it did David Mayo and that half of the membership who left thirty years ago, in the last great exodus. They believe that the world needs to be saved through the application of Scientology. Noticeable among their beliefs, and necessary to them, is this power of forgiveness.

The Scientology confessional procedure is an amalgamation of the Catholic confessional and the Hindu and Buddhist doctrine of karma-vipaka. The act of confession takes the general question of the Catholic confessional and puts it into the specifics of a police or intelligence interrogation. Lists of hundreds of questions may be asked. It is presumed that the penitent will be reluctant to confess, so must be guided and directed, poked and prodded, to give up “withholds.” This is not the case in the voluntary Catholic confessional, where it is presumed that the penitent wants to confess. In Scientology, a therapeutic result is sought, though, as I’ve mentioned above. The confession does not have the seal of confidentiality of the Catholic form, nor indeed of the psychotherapeutic form. As with any other intelligence gathering activity, the information can be used against the penitent. For most defectors, the knowledge that their indiscretions have been recorded is enough to keep them silent. Former members have often told me that they will never speak out publicly, because they don’t want their children to find out about their sexual improprieties or juvenile drug use.


Karma-vipaka is a central doctrine of both Hindu and Buddhist belief. It entered popular culture in the West in the 1960s, though few who use the term have studied the Indian texts, simply adopting the formula “what goes around, comes around” or some such. Hubbard put forward the notion, in a lecture on the Class II course, that the “overt-motivator sequence” as he renamed the traditional action and reaction of karma-vipaka, depends upon the culture of the individual. Putting aside his evident racism, he said that for a “Bantu” (a South African black) it would be an “overt” not to steal. So, in Scientology scripture an “overt” is not an offense against God or the Lords of Karma (who keep the Akashic Record of every act by every living thing — a book necessarily larger than the universe), but against a “moral code.” This becomes troublesome when we find that one of the axioms or “self-evident truths” that govern Scientology is this: “goodness and badness, beautifulness and ugliness are alike considerations and have no other basis than opinion” (Axiom 31). So, what these transgressions are is anybody’s guess.

In the bulletin, Hubbard says that “confessing one’s overt acts is the first step toward taking responsibility for them and seeking to make things right again.” But there is no explanation of these later steps.

I wonder if former members believe that they have been forgiven for their transgressions against critics, simply because of the asserted right in Proclamation: Power to Forgive. At least in the Catholic Church, the penitent is expected to make an act of contrition, but, as a gloating member once explained to me, in Scientology you can do whatever you like and all you have to do is pay for a confessional. Further, as long as you remain a Scientologist, the organization will not report you to any authority (which would be a “high crime”). Soon after leaving, I found that this does not extend to former members. The moment he resigned, an old fellow who had confessed while a member was reported to the police, with the contents of a confession.

In fact, as soon as they leave the fold of official Scientology, the past transgressions of members are unforgiven, and only a “Scientology minister who has been duly trained and certified in the Confessional procedure of the Church of Scientology and is in good standing with the Church with his certificates in force, is invested with the power to forgive the admitted sins of an individual…” (HCOB 10 November 1978R). So, since leaving, there is no one with the authority to forgive them.

Most believers are decent people who fervently believe that they are making the world a better place through their use of the “Tech.” Only a few have been involved in the invidious practices of the Information Bureau, which is tasked to destroy opponents. I experienced harassment on a daily basis for over a dozen years, and it often involved invented rumors, “noisy investigation” and frankly criminal behavior. Only one of those who directed such operations over the years has felt the compunction to even apologize to me for their destructive behavior.

As far as I’m concerned, a beneficial religion or therapy would require contrition and amends, rather than simply shrugging off the vindictive behavior of its members. But perhaps there is a logic within the “Tech” itself. Hubbard said that the Tech doesn’t work unless your ethics are in. Perhaps that is why so little benefit has ever accrued to the use of Scientology, and such considerable harm.


A New Center in Israel? Not So Fast

In the summer of 2012, we broke the news of a startling development in Israel — an entire mission was breaking away from the Church of Scientology. Dani and Tami Lemberger announced that Dror Center, their mission in Haifa, was no longer a part of the church, and that about 40 to 50 church members had all defected together. Since then, Lemberger has regularly reported that Dror Center is thriving as a location for “independent Scientology.” (Here’s a recent report on the Lembergers that Mike Rinder posted at his blog.)

The defection of the Dror Center was significant in a country that otherwise has only one org, in Jaffa/Tel Aviv, and no other missions*. Scientology has always been a tiny presence in the country, and it cannot call itself a religion there.

But then, this week, there was a news story that a new “church” had opened in the northern town of Karmiel, which is only about 50 kilometers from Haifa. The story was very short on details, so we asked Dani Lemberger what he had heard about it — was this a new mission? A new org? What’s happening in Karmiel? He sent us this response…

The Karmiel Center is just another PR hoax. I don’t know much about it, I was forwarded a promo they sent out in Hebrew about a month ago. They make these wild announcements about Jews and Arabs, peace in the Middle East and such nonsense. But no names of who is running it, no auditors, no services offered. Some noise and then nothing. I was told one person active there is Shakib Ali. He is a Druze, was for years active with his family at Dror. He’s one of the few who left us. This activity does not affect us, we’re doing well and expanding.

*It’s been brought to our attention that the “Ideal” org in Jaffa/Tel Aviv replaced an older org in Tel Aviv which apparently still survives in some form. Also, there’s a small mission in Jerusalem. No doubt a few field auditors as well. But Scientology is still a tiny phenomena in Israel.


Another Scientology Tent Party

Yesterday, Mark Bunker got a tip that Scientology would be holding an unannounced Friday night event in the big tent near the Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida. So he headed over there and then sent us this brief dispatch…

Not a lot to report. I swung by around 10 o’clock and the party was in full swing. The shindig was held in the big tent. When I first arrived I parked on a side street and got as close as I could to the tent and could hear the music and merrymaking inside. There were a couple of Penske trucks parked on the street with their hazard lights flashing. I stood between them to take a little footage of the tent and as soon as I arrived security spotted me and then started following my movements.

I only stayed about 10 or 15 minutes. I wandered around to the front on Fort Harrison Avenue and tried to take a picture down the walkway for the main entrance but really didn’t get a good shot. There was a police car with flashing lights at that main entrance which I saw from several blocks away as I was pulling up to the Fort Harrison.

After taking a couple quick shots at the front gate I headed back to my car. As I drove past that front gate there was now a second police car parked with its lights flashing. As I drove past the entrance to the Fort Harrison Hotel I saw my old pal Antonio from security walking toward where I have been parking with a gaggle of police officers. That was the full extent of the excitement.

Well, we appreciate the effort, Mark. Sure is good to have him down there.


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 23, 2013 at 07:00

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