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BUNKER SPECIAL: David Touretzky on L. Ron Hubbard, Mark Twain, and Mary Baker Eddy

DaveTouretzky2We’re starting off the new year with a special treat. One of the all-time most important scholars of Scientology is Carnegie Mellon University professor David Touretzky, who, among other things, provided crucial support for early users of the Internet who wanted to post and maintain information about the church and its alleged abuses.

We’ve mentioned Professor Touretzky often in these pages, and now we’re thrilled that he has written for us a piece that examines the way that decades before L. Ron Hubbard came along, another church leader had figured out an effective method of control that Hubbard himself would adopt. And what’s more, one person who sussed out this technique was none other than author Mark Twain. Take it away, Dave…

People unfamiliar with cults are apt to confuse Scientology with Christian Science, the religious healing movement founded by Mary Baker Eddy. In 1899 Mark Twain published a critical examination of Christian Science, and this and several other essays on the topic were collected in his 1907 book of the same name. As Twain was the original gonzo journalist, his takedown of Mrs. Eddy’s “cult” (his term) remains an amusing read.

Their doctrines differ, but reading Twain is rewarding for Scientology watchers who will recognize the cunning mechanisms Mrs. Eddy erected to control her church and her followers. If L. Ron Hubbard had wanted guidance in perfecting his own cult, he needed look no further than Christian Science. One wonders whether he ever studied Twain’s explication of its workings.


In this brief note I want to focus on just one aspect of the parallelism between the two cults: Scientology’s prohibition of verbal tech. It is literally a “high crime” in Scientology to attempt to explain the meaning of Hubbard’s writings. Any utterance that was not a direct quotation would by definition be a personal interpretation. Hubbard called this “verbal tech”, and no one, not even COB, David Miscavige, has the freedom to express such thoughts.

Here’s what Twain wrote about verbal tech in Christian Science services, talking about the role of “readers” in the church:


These are a feature of first importance in the church machinery of Christian Science. For they occupy the pulpit. They hold the place that the preacher holds in the other Christian Churches. They hold that place, but they do not preach. Two of them are on duty at a time — a man and a woman. One reads a passage from the Bible, the other reads the explanation of it from Science and Health — and so they go on alternating. This constitutes the service — this, with choir-music. They utter no word of their own. Art. IV, Sec. 6, closes their mouths with this uncompromising gag:

They shall make no remarks explanatory of the Lesson-Sermon at any time during the service.

… [Mrs. Eddy] will have no preaching in her Church. She has explained all essential Scriptures, and set the explanations down in her book. In her belief her underlings cannot improve upon those explanations, and in that stern sentence “they shall make no explanatory remarks” she has barred them for all time from trying.

Scientology churches hold Sunday services mainly for show; few members attend regularly. At these spiritual charades there are readings from Hubbard, but no interpretation of the “Lesson-Sermon” — no preaching — precisely because that would be verbal tech. The same prohibition holds in the Scientology course room, where there are no instructors, only course supervisors who are forbidden to explain or amplify Hubbard’s material. They can only direct the PC what to read, and if questions persist, order them to go back and find their misunderstood word, until they learn to stop asking.

Twain thought the point of the prohibition was preventing differences of interpretation that would lead to schism. He remarked: “If it had been thought of and put in force eighteen hundred and seventy years ago, there would be but one Christian sect in the world now, instead of ten dozens of them.” And Hubbard had similar concerns, which is why Scientologists are taught to aspire to “exact duplication” rather than any sort of enlightenment. KSW (Keeping Scientology Working) is all about enforcing orthodoxy. But an equally important consideration is that the prohibition of “explanatory remarks” or “verbal tech” prevents discussion of the scripture’s conceptual errors and incoherencies. Twain’s introductory chapters poke fun at the absurdity of Christian Science’s insistence that disease, injury, and pain aren’t real. Scientology offers a far richer collection of absurdities, from Hubbard’s misuse of physics jargon (frequency, wavelength, mass, charge, energy), to his “recollection” of volcanoes that didn’t exist 75 million years ago, to misidentification of the age of the universe (13 billion years, whereas Hubbard’s whole track goes back to at least four quadrillion, and by the way, how would an immortal thetan know what a terrestial “year” was?).

Rigid control of the membership is a defining feature of cult groups, so it should not surprise that Christian Science and Scientology share prohibitions on critical examination of their scriptures. Marty Rathbun’s publicly rejecting that gag order is part of what makes him so dangerous to Scientology. Other interesting parallels between the groups, such as Mary Baker Eddy’s use of corporate machinery to maintain absolute control of her church’s finances, will have to wait for another day.

There is no “fair game” in Christian Science. Mark Twain suffered no retribution for his attacks on Mrs. Eddy’s church. But his contempt for her cult did not protect his family from its influence: his daughter became a Christian Scientist. And decades later the actress Anne Archer, who was raised a Christian Scientist, would become a Scientologist.


Hey, lawyer, here’s how you qualify to work for Scientology

Another fun video from Karen de la Carriere, J. Swift, and Angry Gay Pope…



Posted by Tony Ortega on January 1, 2014 at 07:00

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